Today, I attempt to debunk myths associated to my field of practice, Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).
Owing to the demand from therapists, ABA has gained popularity globally. Consistent research in the field has led to insights and development of effective techniques to foster desirable behavior. That said, many parents continue to postulate various myths associated to the field.
MYTH 1: ABA IS ONLY FOR CHILDREN WITH AUTISM
ABA techniques is for everyone, regardless of your age and development track. ABA is effective in the fields of teaching, developmental disabilities, addiction and organization behavior management. There is ample research to prove this. ABA techniques can help foster and modify any behavior that one thinks is affecting their life negatively.
MYTH 2: ABA CHANGES A CHILD’S PERSONALITY
Every child, with or without a diagnosis, is different with their abilities to communicate, way of learning, pace of learning, history of learning. ABA aims to change only behaviors that are harmful or are obstructing new learning. Also, when we talk about changing behaviors, we are not just taking it away, we provide the child with a replacement or more socially appropriate behaviors.
This does not change a child’s personality, it only makes them function well in a society.
MYTH 3: ABA GOALS ARE CREATED AS COMPARED TO ‘TYPICALLY DEVELOPING PEERS’
Goals in ABA are created keeping the child in mind. What does the child need in order to move forward?
Assessments in ABA are not based on any standardized development tools, they are based on your child’s current needs and towards a more functioning individual of society. There is no comparison to anyone but the child himself.
MYTH 4: ABA IS ALL ABOUT GIVING CANDY AS REINFORCEMENTS.
One of the early steps in ABA is to identify what motivates the child, we call it a Preference Assessment. For some children it is edibles (not necessarily candy) all the way, for some it is playing with toys or outside, and so on. We synthesize all the information gathered from parents, caregivers, our independent assessments to identify a hierarchy of things liked by the child that will motivate him to work. Depending on the complexity of the task and the time taken to complete it, a reinforcement is decided. Also, it is never an on-the-spot decision, a lot of planning and programming goes into putting a reinforcement schedule in place.
MYTH 5: ABA THERAPIST GET TO ‘PLAY’ WITH CHILDREN FOR 6 HOURS A WEEK.
Yes! If that is what it looks like, you should love your ABA therapist. Keeping the child interested and motivated while doing the work is key. Lots of pairing and playing but still checking those everyday goals of communication, skill building, gross and fine motor are equally important. Trained ABA therapists are fluent in working on such goals which may seem like they are simply playing with you child. But give it a try and you realize it’s not all play.
MYTH 6: ABA USES A LOT OF PUNISHMENT PROCEDURES.
Punishment, in contemporary culture, has a negative undertone. Punishment, in ABA, typically means any procedure that results in reduction of a behavior.
Research history suggests that punishment was a common method used in 1960s. Rules for ABA have become extremely stringent since. According to ethical code for behavior analysts, there needs to be evidence of documentation and data of all the reinforcement strategies already been tried before deciding the use of punishment. There are rules for using punishment effectively as well.
An example could be, if your child hits another child at school, you put his toys in time-out. Simply put, you take away his toys. If his hitting behavior at school decreases, then you taking away his toys served as a punishment.
I hope this helps answer some of your questions around ABA.